BLUFFTON — In a game where the offenses were slow-tempo and defenses were contesting nearly every shot, it became clear early that the team that rebounded and took the ball away the most would likely prevail.
That’s where Columbus Grove’s big men took care of their business.
The Bulldogs defeated Bluffton on Friday night 41-32, improving their record to 10-6 overall and 4-2 in the conference. Will Vorhees led them with 13 points and six rebounds, while Derek Rieman scored six points and pulled down nine rebounds.
“It’s no secret we rely on Will and Derek to do a lot of work for us,” Columbus Grove coach Ryan Stechschulte said. “They’re very important players. When they work hard and rebound like that, it gives us a lot better chance to win.”
Despite the excellent play by Columbus Grove’s bigs, the game was controlled for a long time by the Pirates’ defense. Bluffton’s typical aggressive style combined with an offense that operated at a methodical pace, which led to the Pirates leading through the first three quarters, 29-27. Its biggest advantage came at the end of the second quarter, when their lead was 22-12, thanks in part to an 11-point half for Levi Kistler that included two 3-pointers.
The second half is when Columbus Grove began to shine inside. Their defense turned up the pressure on Bluffton, while the offense began to generate more open looks for itself. The result was a surprise 9-0 run by the Bulldogs in the first 4:32 of the second half that shrunk the Pirates’ lead to one point. Bluffton was never able to answer with a run of its own.
Columbus Grove dominated the fourth, outscoring Bluffton 14-4 and running away with another big NWC victory. The Bulldogs also shut Kistler down in the second half, forcing him to settle with his 11 point first half total.
“We were flat in the first half,” Stechschulte said. “It just wasn’t the kind of basketball we’d like to play. The seniors really took it upon themselves in the second half to pick up the effort, attitude, communication and everything else it takes to be a good basketball team.”
Blake Hoffman was the second-highest scorer for Columbus Grove, finishing with 10 points. Bluffton’s Michael Donley was held to just seven points.
“I thought we accomplished what we set out to do defensively,” Bluffton coach Todd Boblitt said. “They’re a tough match-up for us because they’ve got good size inside as well as a few guards that can make shots from outside. I thought it was going to be tough for us to handle them, and our guys competed extremely well.”
Bluffton falls to 7-9 overall and 2-4 in the conference.